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May 10, 2015

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Russia marks victory IN WWII

RUSSIAN President Vladimir Putin yesterday presided over a huge military parade to commemorate the 70th anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany, brushing off a snub by Western leaders.

In what is seen as punishment for the Kremlin’s meddling in Ukraine, Western countries led by Russia’s World War II allies boycotted the festivities.

Addressing thousands of foreign guests and veterans, Putin chose to ignore the boycott, thanking Britain, France and the United States for their “contribution” to the defeat of Germany.

“Our fathers and grandfathers went through unbearable suffering, deprivation and losses,” Putin said, feting the country’s veterans and the “grandeur of Victory over Nazism.”

“We are grateful to the people of Great Britain, France and the United States for their contribution to victory,” he said, also thanking those who fought against the Nazis in other countries, including Germany.

In an apparent dig at the US, Putin also criticized attempts to establish a “unipolar” world order and stressed the need to develop a “system of equal security for all states,” but he conspicuously shunned more aggressive rhetoric and made no mention of the Ukraine crisis.

Speaking at a reception later, Putin said international relations should be guided by the WWII-era “spirit of allied partnership.”

More than 16,000 soldiers, including ones from China, India, Mongolia, Serbia and ex-Soviet states, marched across Red Square’s famed cobbles as Putin, seated next to Chinese President Xi Jinping, looked on.

Cutting-edge military equipment including the next-generation Armata T-14 tank and nuclear missile systems rumbled through the square along with the famed war-era T-34 tank, in one of the biggest Victory Day celebrations in decades.

The parade also saw more than 100 military aircraft — including long-range nuclear bombers — swoop over Moscow in a spectacular fly-by.

In a gesture highlighting Russia’s new-found religious fervor, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu crossed himself at the start of the parade, and at noon church bells tolled for 15 minutes.

Besides Xi, other high-profile guests at the parade were United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon and India’s President Pranab Mukherjee.

Raul Castro of Cuba, Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Jacob Zuma of South Africa were also in attendance.

The Soviet Union lost an estimated 27 million soldiers and civilians in WWII and the Red Army’s triumph remains an enormous source of pride. Victory Day traditionally unites Russians across political divides and huge crowds were expected to flood into central Moscow.

But the Kremlin parade was overshadowed by the Ukraine crisis, with the West slapping sanctions on Moscow over Russia’s annexation of Crimea and alleged support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

US President Barack Obama has snubbed the festivities, as have the leaders of Russia’s other key WWII allies Britain and France.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel ducked out of attending the parade but is scheduled to fly to Moscow today to lay a wreath at the grave of the Unknown Soldier.

Hours after the main parade, Putin unexpectedly joined the head of a 250,000-strong commemorative march on Red Square, holding a portrait of his father, who fought in the war.

“I think my father, just like millions of simple soldiers had every right to walk through this square,” Putin said, as he briefly led the vast crowd in the Kremlin-backed event dubbed the “Immortal Regiment.”

Lyudmila Yurkova, 72, said the world owed a debt to Russia as she marched as part of a huge column of people, mostly carrying portraits of relatives.

“Europe is forgetting that the USSR won the war,” she said.

More than 70 percent of Russians say a close family member was killed or went missing during the conflict.

Victory Day was celebrated across Russia, with authorities staging parades involving thousands of soldiers, naval vessels and even nuclear submarines.


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